Filmmakers of the best films produced every year are given the Justin Louis award, a uniquely designed and hand-carved wooden trophy made by the Indigenous Mahmeri tribe of Carey Island in Selangor.
The award’s namesake was a young Malaysian activist who was also the first coordinator of KOMAS. In November of 1994, Justin along with a group of other activists, consisting of Cynthia Gabriel, See Chee How, Jannie Lasimbang, Colin Nicholas, Francis Cheong and Wong Meng Chuo, were travelling on a longboat to the upper reaches of the Baram River to investigate the cases of alleged rape of Penan women by forest rangers.
A trip upriver isn’t usually the safest, due to the harsh physical terrains and communication difficulties travellers are forced to face. The rough waters proved to be cruel as the young activists had encountered a disaster. The motor of their longboat died mid-trip and the strong currents caused their boat to overturn, throwing everyone overboard. The group clung on to anything that would keep them above water, including the floating tins of biscuits that fell off the boat. After a tough swim to the riverbank, it was discovered that all but Justin had managed to survive. His body was recovered two weeks later and was buried in Marudi.
Justin, who was only 30 when this happened, was a young man who believed in the power of moving images in efforts to bring about social awareness and meaningful change. His selflessness and dedication towards transforming the lives of the marginalised and oppressed serves as an inspiration to fellow Malaysian activists and is the reason he is honoured by the award.